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By Pete Mortensen
Each Apple Store is intimate, friendly, educational and filled with new technologies to discover. They’re warm places, filled with helpful “geniuses,” great gift ideas and room to learn, fail and succeed. Each interaction is an opportunity for Apple to directly connect in an emotional way with its customers — a pure brand expression.
But as Apple’s influence and power as a company has grown, another electronics powerhouse, Sony, has headed straight downhill, with a mediocre retail presence reflecting its overall woes. The NY Times’s Randall Stross does an excellent job of chronicling the features that make Apple stand out and the symptoms of Sony’s disease in this feature from the Sunday Times. He does not, however, truly diagnose the patient or recommend a cure that people can actually use.
I’ll take that chance. Click through to hear what Apple is doing right, and why Sony Style stores feel so cold.
Here’s why Apple Stores are great: They are exactly like Apple and its products. Modern, simple, rife with false humility. On some deep level, Apple Stores are very proud of the company’s achievements. The place unabashedly celebrates all things iPod, Mac, AppleTV and iLife like a proud parent. More than that, everything in the room says “Try me. Take me home. I’ll make you better. I work well with the technologies you already own.” The design of the retail experience is focused on emotional connections to Apple’s customers. And it works really well, because that’s what every Apple product, package, and business decision is also designed to do. It’s honest.
Stross is very taken with Apple Stores, but I think this advice for Sony from Wendy Liebman of WSL Retail is a bit off. She’s telling Sony to be Apple, and that really only works for Apple:
Wendy Liebman, the founder of WSL Strategic Retail in New York, was equally critical of the Sony Style store, which she faulted as being merely “a place of stuff.” She said that a successful brand excites a passionate attachment, the way Starbucks or Target do, and that Apple’s stores exemplify “emotional connection.”
“People can just walk in, absorb the fumes and feel like the smartest technophile in the world,” she said. Let’s add that there is only one place to buy computers that features Geniuses at all times.
The article struggles for a purpose. Is the issue that Sony needs to be more emotional? Or is it that the company needs an exclusive device that will drive traffic to the stores? Here’s the big picture. Sony is not an emotional brand. It is a cool brand that pushes for sleek, clean, high-design, high-tech products that really push the edges of technical possibility. And the fact is, that isn’t necessarily the most fun brand to embody in an environment. Sony Style is almost true to the overall Sony brand, but I think it tries a little too hard to allow people to experiment and discover, much like the Apple Store. Sony makes technology for people who want the latest and greatest. That says to me that maybe Sony Style should be more about a curated experience — guided tours of the bleeding edge.
A Sony store feels too much like my living room and not enough like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. That’s the problem. If I could be having this experience at home, I’d rather have Apple get me there. For Sony, I want to feel like I’ve stepped into the future.
Apple’s Lesson for Sony’s Stores: Just Connect [NY Times]
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